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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No peering into Iran's soul, but excellent travel writing,
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This review is from: The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (Paperback)Somewhere near the start of the book the author said he wanted us to peer into Iran's soul. That didn't happen. There was no eureka moment. As there wasn't really anything new here, apart from a few interviews with some senior figures in the Islamic establishment.
So no furniture in my mind shifted. But as first rate travel writing with plenty of background and gentle insight the author certainly polished the furniture. For example anyone who has had any interaction with Iranians know there is a huge amount of snobbery in the disdain the rich and middle classes have for the clerics and Ahmadinejad's working class constituency. Hooman Majd underlines this, but gives us great background on the identity of the `laat' (working class skin head type) and the jahel (skin head leader) who won the revolution for the clerics.
He is particularly good on how Shia Iran is, and during his description of the mourning for Hossein he tells us what the passion is all about: tribalism. `This was our cult', he writes, `and screw the rest of the world, particularly the Arabs if they didn't like it.' This is refreshingly blunt.
There is no detailed political story here, but on these sort of big points you feel Majd has probably got it right: the MEK is rightly loathed by most Iranians; Iranians' garden walls (the public/private divide) is still respected; the idea that the Diaspora Iranians will have any political influence is laughable; the Islamic Republic has massive and committed support, easily seen when Majd attended the revolution's anniversary party; there is no appetite for another violent revolution; the young are more interested in social freedoms than politics, the old in economic security; and so as long as the rulers remember their `Shia sensibilities', (the right of the righteous David to fight the oppressive Goliath) there will be no internal overthrow of the constitution Ayatollah Khomeini set up over thirty years ago.
So for me, there was no peering into Iran's soul; but it was a pleasant journey with plenty of enjoyable sights. If you enjoy travel writing, and want to find out more about Iran from a sensible and knowledgeable guide, this is a good place to start.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Want to Understand Iran?,
This review is from: The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (Paperback)If you want to understand what makes the Islamic Republic of Iran tick, then this is the book for you. I'd always seen news reports on Iran and tried to make sense of who's who and why leading Iranian figures always seem to take a perverse pleasure in goading the West. Hooman Majd has the extraordinary ability to explain the loves and likes of Iranians at all levels through a series of anecdotes and mini travelogs, which build a picture of a complex and fiercely proud people. The book is well written with a great sense of humour running through it and on more than one occasion I found myself laughing out loud.
4.0 out of 5 stars 100 percent American, 100 percent Iranian,
This review is from: The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (Paperback)In the 250 pages of this readable book the author gives a personal view of modern Iran. He is privileged, being the son of a diplomat of the Shah. He has a foreign education and lives in New York but he travels back to Iran frequently and has high level contacts there. A friend once told him that he is both 100 percent American and 100 percent Iranian; the author agrees.
In this book he successfully explains many aspects of Iran which will surprise the Western reader. He is comfortable moving from the South Kensington of North Tehran to the East End of South Tehran. He talks with taxi drivers. He travels to the theological centre of Qom and to the traditional city of Yazd where he has family connections. He attends the annual Shia self-flagellation ceremony mourning the death of Iman Hossein fourteen hundred years ago. He smokes opium with old men and drinks alcohol at fancy upscale parties.
He discusses President Ahmadinejad and explains why he was able to win the presidential election. Ahmadinejad rose to the presidency through intelligence, hard work and education. He is a man from and of the people who still lives modestly. No sharp suits for him; he deliberately dresses like the ordinary people and he believes what they believe. This includes a belief in the Iman Mahdi, or messiah. Ahmadinejad was newly elected when this book was written. Now his presidency is coming to an end. The Guardian Council is appointed by the Supreme Leader and it decides on who can stand in presidential elections. Former president Rafsanjani put his name forward but was refused. All of the chosen candidates are closely linked to Iran's ruling system.
The author has meetings with officials and ex-officials of the government, including the former president Khatami. The author explains how Iran is a democracy, but one that can only operate under the limits imposed by the mullahs, like living in a modern Papal State. The president will always be weak in comparison to the religious Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
The elite are allowed their riches and their private disdain for the mullahs and the ordinary people, but are politically unimportant as are those that fled the revolution to live abroad. For the ordinary people, the young just want more personal freedom and their elders wish for a better economy.
Iranians are predominately Persian, Shia and speak Farsi; they are not Arabic speaking Sunnis. It was never a formal colony but was deeply subservient to Russia and Britain and later to the USA until the Revolution of 1979.
In Iran there is the public area where conformity is required and there is the private area which is rarely interfered with by the authorities. The Old Persian name for their high-walled private gardens is the origin of the English word paradise. The author opens the door into this Persian garden and allows the reader to glimpse into this secret world.
By the same author
2013 The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran
2012 The Ayatollahs' Democracy: An Iranian Challenge
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars witty and balanced,
This review is from: The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (Paperback)This is a witty quasi-anthropological account that goes much beyond the travelogue. I have understood more about Iran through this than through any other stuff I read. This guy is really an intellectual, he is absolutely amazing, and he writes in such a way that when i was reading the book on the train i was embarrassed at finding myself giggling!
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The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran by Hooman Majd (Paperback - 27 Aug 2009)